The Nature of the Hoof

    To know and understand the nature of horse’s hoof is of great importance for every horseman. It will help to understand and implement not only the proper care for the hoof but the proper shoeing as well. 
    Just like the nature of the horse adjusts to the environment and the living condition, so do his feet adjust to the same and very much keeps themselves in balance. The key elements to which the hoof responds are: moisture, surface and the horse’s movement on it, as well as the various stresses on the hoof itself.  The latter is very important when it comes to shoeing.

Click image sizes to download size for desktop or background.
1024x768  800x600

    Unfortunately, the shoeing interferes with the horse’s nature as well as with the natural response of the hoof to the environment. Simply said, we are putting a piece of steel between the horse and his nature, hence the shoeing is always detrimental to the horse’s hoof. This is very important to keep in mind for better understanding of shoeing. Therefore, the object of shoeing is not only to make the horse perform better and longer at work, but also to minimize the negative effect that the shoeing has on the foot and the animal in general. 
    What the horse does not need, he will more likely not grow. These examples can be seen on horses with irregular hooves, like toed in or toed out feet. If the stress is more one sided, the horse will grow the stressed part more then the less stressed part of the hoof.
This of course will create various problems in maintaining a balanced hoof when shoeing. In his free life the horse would not only grow the stressed part more, but he will also wear it off more, thus keeping his feet in balance and good health. It is therefore very important to keep in mind, that all horses with irregular hooves should be shod more often than horses with normal hooves. This is very often ignored and causes hoof deformities, offset hoof capsules and further threatens the soundness of the horse as well as his longevity. The hoof capsule is not attached to the horse’s leg by bones and tendons; hence it can be easily offset from the original position by improper/irregular/infrequent farrier care.

A virgin hoof of a wild Chincoteague pony, that was never trimmed. Hoof is fairly well balanced and worn off. Note, the toe is neither squared or rolled.

    When the weather is dry, the ground gets hard and so does the hoof. This is a natural reaction of the hoof that is thus protected from premature wearing off. When the weather is wet, the horses foot softens, thus the horse nature can prevent the hoof overgrowth and enables easier wearing/breaking off.
    The surface plays also a great role in the condition of the hoof. Horses living on softer ground will grow slower and also weaker hoof, hence horses standing on rubber mats (rubber pads) will tend to react as living on soft ground. This will often create problems in shoeing as there is very little foot to work with, since the growth slows down, as well as the walls gets thinner making it hard for the shoes to stay on and complicates the entire shoeing process. Living on the grass will have similar effects, which can be seen on the English Thoroughbreds that were primarily raised on grass and in time the weaker, slower growing foot became their inbred nature. The Arabian horse, who was raised in the rocky desert, contrasts this by his inbred nature that presents a horse with strong hoof.

    All the above elements remain in effect, whether we shoe the horse or not, which of course will cause various problems in shoeing. Nailing into the hard foot often causes chipping (cracking) of the walls, or in the too wet environment the white line (which is covered by the shoe) will tend to rot. Many other problems will occur especially in the case of irregular hoofs, causing tilting to one side, injuries like splints etc.

    Understanding the nature of the hoof, as well as the nature of particular horse (breed) is essential in making decisions in hoof care and the shoeing process.

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a. Lee Stanek